I recently listened to "The Big Picture" podcast which featured a "lawyer movie draft." The premise of the podcast was that five people would "draft" their favorite lawyer movies in six different categories – drama, comedy, thriller, Oscar winner, lawyer and John Grisham adaptation. The "lawyer" category required the participants to choose a movie lawyer who they would pick to defend them if their life depended on it. This was just too much fun not to write about. So here goes.
For drama, I pick "Anatomy of a Murder" – a 1959 film starring Jimmy Stewart as a Michigan lawyer called upon to defend an Army Lieutenant accused of killing a man who raped his wife. I love this movie because it is one of the most accurate depictions of a trial that I have ever seen. I also love it because it featured a real life lawyer – Joseph Welch as the judge. Welch was the lawyer who, in a senate hearing, famously asked Senator Joe McCarthy if he had no decency. A great movie with a twist at the end.
Comedy is an easy pick, as I consider "My Cousin Vinnie" a classic. It is, of course, hilarious. Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei have tremendous chemistry and brilliant comedic timing. Tomei won the supporting actress Oscar, likely on the strength of her testimony as a reluctant expert witness. But early in the film, Pesci, as Vinnie, dismantles the testimony of three eye witnesses with a cross examination that is taught in law schools. It's that good.
My thriller is "Body Heat" -- a 1981 film featuring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner. It's a remake of the 1944 film "Double Indemnity." Body Heat brings to the screen a lot of the physical attraction between the two leads that was implied in the 1944 film. So there's that. But a key plot point in the film is the rule against perpetuities. This is a concept that has vexed first year law students for generations. I would try to explain it, but it would take way too long. And I never understood it that well in the first place.
My Oscar winner is "To Kill A Mockingbird." There is very little anyone can say about this classic, other than it is beautifully told and impeccably acted. Gregory Peck won the Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, and Horton Foote won for his adapted screenplay. The character of Atticus may have come in for some reexamining in recent years, but I remain fond of his portrayal as a superhero in the eyes of his children Jeb and Scout.
My pick for the Grisham adaptation is "The Rainmaker," starring Matt Damon and Claire Danes. Damon is a pugnacious young lawyer who overcomes too many obstacles to mention to obtain a verdict for his client from a crooked insurance company. It is a wild ride, with a cast of recognizable faces, including Teresa Wright in her final role. Ms. Wright played Lou Gehrig's wife Eleanor in "The Pride of the Yankees." As a baseball and movie fan, I have a soft spot for her.
And finally, my lawyer pick. This was a tough one. Several of the lawyers from the movies mentioned above could qualify. But in the end, I picked somewhat of a sleeper – Raul Julia from "Presumed Innocent." He played Sandy Stern – the lawyer Harrison Ford's character hired to defend him a murder trial. As portrayed by Julia, Stern is prepared, calm and eloquent. And, for what it's worth – he wins. My kind of lawyer.
I know I left some great movies off this list, and I can't wait to read the comments. But for now, back to the real world!